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Questions raised in the House of Lords about the forced restructuring of Botton Village as the Action for Botton campaign continues to gain political traction

13 March 2015

Reported in Whitby Gazette, 20.3.2015, "Botton concerns raised in the House of Lords"  Link 

Following the petition last month presented at Downing St by learning disabled Botton residents and now with over 30 concerned MPs of all colours writing to David Cameron, and other government departments, Baroness Hollins has highlighted the plight of the community at Botton Village with reference to the pervasive mis-application of the Mental Capacity Act in a speech this Tuesday.  She said:

The second example is about Botton Village. It is an intentional community where, until recently, all residents and co-workers lived alongside each other as equals, sharing a home. It is said that:

“Residents feel needed, valued and respected and it shows”.

“The umbrella term used by social services would be ‘shared lives’. However, the model is under threat, with a division being made between those who are considered carers or staff and those being cared for. It appears that financial decisions are driving change without the inclusion of residents in best interest decisions about the future direction of their lives, with many relatives of people who live there being gravely concerned that this loving and inclusive community will be lost, without their individual voices being listened to”

“It appears that, after an inspection, Camphill Village Trust, which owns this community, made the decision to change it from a community or family-based organisation to a commercial/institutional model, which the families have perceived as being to the detriment of the inhabitants of Botton Village. In the words of the Welfare Reform Trust,

“When did care become a business?”

“The intentions of the Mental Capacity Act are not to create an additional layer of bureaucracy and regulation that takes away people’s rights; it is supposed to enhance their rights. I draw particular attention to the more than 1 million people in England living with a learning disability. This is nearly double the number living with dementia, and yet we often think about people with learning disabilities as being a very small group. The point is that a learning disability, by its very nature, is not time limited and will be present their whole lives”

Earlier in the month when launching the Green Paper consultation, ‘No Voice Unheard, No Right Ignored’, in a BBC interview Norman Lamb relayed that he felt the learning disabled are being ”treated like second-class citizens with decisions being made about them without them being involved and without their families being involved”.

Meanwhile, Mark Harper, the Minister for Disabled People, is working on behalf of his Forest of Dean constituency which has three CVT centres. The changes have already been forced through at two communities there, but with resistance still being shown at The Grange, where a few Co-workers remain, supported by families of Learning Disabled residents, who wish to retain the Co-worker shared living arrangements so beneficial to the residents.

As well as nationwide support from sitting MPs, two local parliamentary candidates at the forthcoming General Election attended the last Action for Botton public meeting in Danby and spoke up in defence of the Co-workers.  

Labour candidate Ian McInnes commented: “I first visited Botton during the Open Days over 25 years ago. Where there once was peace there is now anxiety. It shouldn't be like this! I have been communicating with Labour's Shadow ministers and they are keen to have an understanding of the issues involved”. He added “Action for Botton, the co-workers, villagers of Botton and local community are all working together in a spirit of solidarity and I am delighted to be able to offer my support.”

While Mike Beckett for the Liberal Democrats, said: “Intentional communities are a way of life and any changes to them should be resident-led and not imposed without choice.  When you impose something on somebody with learning disabilities without their informed consent, that is classically abuse.” He continued “In addition, the wishes of local people should be taken into account in a consultation which involves a community as important as Botton.”

CVT is already under scrutiny with campaigners highlighting serious questions including a worrying lack of transparency in its accounts and, last month, a sudden Trustee resignation citing governance issues including concerns relating to the Articles and Memorandum. In addition, there are claims of harassment being made to local Police and pending actions for compensation by ex-community members who claim to have been bullied out of their communities. Finally, a letter before action from campaigners, including parents from one community now devoid of Co-workers, has been issued over potential breaches of the charity’s Objects as laid down in the memorandum as well as over a form of manipulation of membership before last year’s AGM.

With growing political awareness of the issues one wonders how CVT’s Chair of Trustees Felicity Chadwick-Histed, also Partner at Publitas Consulting LLP, can continue to ignore the plight of the learning disabled for whom the Trustees are ultimately responsible.